materialism

materialism

[muh-teer-ee-uh-liz-uhm]
materialism, in philosophy, a widely held system of thought that explains the nature of the world as entirely dependent on matter, the fundamental and final reality beyond which nothing need be sought. Certain periods in history, usually those associated with scientific advance, are marked by strong materialistic tendencies. The doctrine was formulated as early as the 4th cent. B.C. by Democritus, in whose system of atomism all phenomena are explained by atoms and their motions in space. Other early Greek teaching, such as that of Epicurus and Stoicism, also conceived of reality as material in its nature. The theory was later renewed in the 17th cent. by Pierre Gassendi and Thomas Hobbes, who believed that the sphere of consciousness essentially belongs to the corporeal world, or the senses. The investigations of John Locke were adapted to materialist positions by David Hartley and Joseph Priestley. They were a part of the materialist development of the 18th cent., strongly manifested in France, where the most extreme thought was that of Julien de La Mettrie. The culminating expression of materialist thought in this period was the Système de la nature (1770), for which Baron d'Holbach is considered chiefly responsible. A reaction against materialism was felt in the later years of the 18th cent., but the middle of the 19th cent. brought a new movement, largely psychological in interpretation. Two of the modern developments of materialism are dialectical materialism and physicalism, a position formulated by some members of the Logical Positivist movement. Closely related to materialism in origin are naturalism and sensualism.

See D. M. Armstrong, Materialist Theory of the Mind (1968); P. M. Churchland, Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of the Mind (1979) and Matter and Consciousness (1984).

In metaphysics, the doctrine that all of reality is essentially of the nature of matter. In the philosophy of mind, one form of materialism, sometimes called central-state materialism, asserts that states of the mind are identical to states of the human brain. In order to account for the possible existence of mental states in creatures that do not share the human nervous system (e.g., octopuses and Martians), proponents of functionalism identified particular mental states with the functional or causal roles those states play with respect to other physical and mental states of the organism; this allows for the “multiple realizability” of the same mental state in different physical states. (Strictly speaking, functionalism is compatible with both materialism and non-materialism, though most functionalists are materialists.) As a form of materialism, functionalism is “nonreductive,” because it holds that mental states cannot be completely explained in terms that refer only to what is physical. Though not identical with physical states, mental states are said to “supervene” on them, in the sense that there can be no change in the former without some change in the latter. “Eliminative” materialism rejects any aspect of the mental that cannot be explained wholly in physical terms; in particular, it denies the existence of the familiar categories of mental state presupposed in folk psychology. Seealso identity theory; mind-body problem.

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Philosophical approach expressed through the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and later by Georgy Plekhanov, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, the official philosophy of communism. Its central tenet, borrowed from Hegelianism, is that all historical growth, change, and development results from the struggle of opposites. (In philosophical terms, a thesis is opposed by its antithesis, which results in a synthesis.) Specifically, it is the class struggle—the struggle between the capitalist and landowning classes, on the one hand, and the proletariat and peasantry, on the other—that creates the dynamic of history. The laws of historical dialectics are seen to be so powerful that individual leaders are of little historical consequence. Originally conceived as operating primarily in the social, economic, and political realm, the principle was extended in the 20th century to the scientific realm as well, with major effects on Soviet science. Marx and Engels stated their philosophical views mainly in the course of polemics and brief historical studies; there is no systematic exposition of dialectical materialism.

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The philosophy of materialism holds that the only thing that can be truly proven to exist is matter, and is considered a form of physicalism. Fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance. As a theory, materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. For singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism would be in contrast to idealism.

Overview

The view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, famously by René Descartes. However, by itself materialism says nothing about how material substance should be characterized. In practice it is frequently assimilated to one variety of physicalism or another.

Materialism is often associated with the methodological principle of reductionism, according to which the objects or phenomena individuated at one level of description, if they are genuine, must be explicable in terms of the objects or phenomena at some other level of description -- typically, a more general level than the reduced one. Non-reductive materialism explicitly rejects this notion, however, taking the material constitution of all particulars to be consistent with the existence of real objects, properties, or phenomena not explicable in the terms canonically used for the basic material constituents. Jerry Fodor influentially argues this view, according to which empirical laws and explanations in "special sciences" like psychology or geology are invisible from the perspective of basic physics. A vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.

Modern philosophical materialists extend the definition of matter to include other scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. However philosophers such as Mary Midgley suggest that the concept of "matter" is elusive and poorly defined.

Materialism typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, vitalism and dual-aspect monism. Its materiality can in some ways be linked to the concept of Determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers.

Materialism has been criticised by religious thinkers opposed to it, who regard it as a spiritually empty philosophy. Marxism also uses materialism to refer to a "materialist conception of history", which is not concerned with metaphysics but centers on the roughly empirical world of human activity (practice, including labor) and the institutions created, reproduced, or destroyed by that activity (see materialist conception of history).

History of materialism

Axial Age

Materialism developed, possibly independently, in several geographically separated regions of Eurasia during the Axial Age.

In Ancient Indian philosophy, materialism developed around 600 BCE with the works of Ajita Kesakambali, Payasi, Kanada, and the proponents of the Cārvāka school of philosophy. Kanada was one of the early proponents of atomism. The Nyaya-Vaisesika school (600 BCE - 100 BCE) developed one of the earliest forms of atomism. The tradition was carried forward by Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school.

Xun Zi developed a Confucian doctrine oriented on realism and materialism in Ancient China. Other notable Chinese materialists of this time include Yang Xiong and Wang Chong.

Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Epicurus, and even Aristotle prefigure later materialists. The poem De Rerum Natura by Lucretius recounts the mechanistic philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. According to this view, all that exists is matter and void, and all phenomena are the result of different motions and conglomerations of base material particles called "atoms." De Rerum Natura provides mechanistic explanations for phenomena, like erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound, that would not become accepted for more than 1500 years. Famous principles like "nothing can come from nothing" and "nothing can touch body but body" first appeared in the works of Lucretius.

Common Era

Later Indian materialist Jayaraashi Bhatta (6th century CE) in his work Tattvopaplavasimha ("the Upsetting of all principles") refuted the Nyaya Sutra epistemology. The materialistic Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time after 1400 CE.

In early 12th-century al-Andalus, the Arabian philosopher, Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.

European Enlightenment

Later on, Thomas Hobbes and Pierre Gassendi represent the materialist tradition, in opposition to René Descartes' attempts to provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. Later materialists included Denis Diderot and other French enlightenment thinkers, as well as Ludwig Feuerbach, and, in England, the pedestrian traveller John "Walking" Stewart, whose insistence that all matter is endowed with a moral dimension had a major impact on the philosophical poetry of William Wordsworth.

Schopenhauer wrote that "...materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." (The World as Will and Representation, II, Ch. 1). He claimed that an observing subject can only know material objects through the mediation of the brain and its particular organization. The way that the brain knows determines the way that material objects are experienced. "Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this (especially if it should ultimately result in thrust and counter-thrust) can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time." (ibid., I, §7)

Marx's Social Materialism

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, turning the idealist dialectics of Georg Hegel upside down, came up with dialectical materialism, and with a materialist account of the course of history, known as historical materialism. For Marx, the base material of the world is social relations (and mainly class relations eg, between serfs and lord or today, between employer and employee), as an expression of these basic social relations all other ideas (ideology) form, including those of science and of economics, law, morality etc..

Scientific Materialists

Many current and recent philosophers — e.g. Dennett, Quine, Davidson, Searle, Fodor and Kim — operate within a broadly physicalist or materialist framework, producing rival accounts of how best to accommodate mindfunctionalism, anomalous monism, identity theory and so on.

In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a more extreme position, eliminativist materialism, which holds that mental phenomena simply do not exist at all -- that talk of the mental reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" that simply has no basis in fact, something like the way that folk science speaks of demon-caused illness.

Defining matter

The nature and definition of matter have been subject to much debate, as have other key concepts in science and philosophy. Is there a single kind of matter which everything is made of (hyle), or multiple kinds? Is matter a continuous substance capable of expressing multiple forms (hylomorphism), or a number of discrete, unchanging constituents (atomism)? Does it have intrinsic properties (substance theory), or is it lacking them (prima materia)?

Without question science has made unexpected discoveries about matter. Some paraphrase departures from traditional or common-sense concepts of matter as "disproving the existence of matter". However, most physical scientists take the view that the concept of matter has merely changed, rather than being eliminated.

One challenge to the traditional concept of matter as tangible "stuff" is the rise of field physics in the 19th century. However the conclusion that materialism is false may be premature. Relativity shows that matter and energy (including the spatially distributed energy of fields) are interchangeable. This enables the ontological view that energy is prima materia and matter is one of its forms. On the other hand, quantum field theory models fields as exchanges of particlesphotons for electromagnetic fields and so on. On this view it could be said that fields are "really matter".

All known solid, liquid, and gaseous substances are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. All three are fermions or spin-half particles, whereas the particles that mediate fields in quantum field theory are bosons. Thus matter can be said to divide into a more tangible fermionic kind and a less tangible bosonic kind. However it is now known that less than 5% of the physical composition of the universe is made up of such "matter", and the majority of the universe is composed of Dark Matter and Dark Energy - with no agreement amongst scientists about what these are made of. This obviously refutes the traditional materialism that held that the only things that exist are things composed of the kind of matter with which we are broadly familiar ("traditional matter") - which was anyway under great strain as noted above from Relativity and quantum field theory. But if the definition of "matter" is extended to "anything whose existence can be inferred from the observed behaviour of traditional matter" then there is no reason in principle why entities whose existence materialists normally deny should not be considered as "matter

Some philosophers feel that these dichotomies necessitate a switch from materialism to physicalism. Others use materialism and physicalism interchangeably.

Criticism and alternatives

Theologian-philosopher Alvin Plantinga criticises it, and Theologian-philosopher Keith Ward suggests that materialism is rare amongst contemporary UK philosophers: "Looking around my philosopher colleagues in Britain, virtually all of whom I know at least from their published work, I would say that very few of them are materialists..

Religious and spiritual objections

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, materialism denies the existence of both God and the soul. It is therefore incompatible with most world religions including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and arguably some schools of Buddhism.

In most of Hinduism, Buddhism, & Transcendentalism, all matter is believed to be an illusion called Maya, blinding us from knowing the truth. Maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya gets destroyed for a person when they perceive Brahma with transcendental knowledge.

Kant argued against all three of materialism, normal idealism (which he contrasts with his "transcendental idealism) and dualism. However, Kant also argues that change and time require an enduring substrate., and does so in connection with his Refutation of Idealism

Postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers also express a skepticism about any all-encompassing metaphysical scheme.

Philosopher Mary Midgley, among others , argues that materialism is a self-refuting idea, at least in its eliminative form. While some critics hold that matter is an ill-defined concept, it is not clear that substitutes, such as Spirit, or Hegelian Geist fare any better.

Other ontologies

Bundle Theory. It can be argued that it is the properties of material bodies, such as size and shape, which are perceived, and not the material substrate itself. Locke said we "know not what" the basic substance is.As Berkeley wrote "I acknowledge it is possible we might perceive all things just as we do now, though there was no Matter in the world; neither can I conceive, if there be Matter, how it should produce any idea in our minds". If mind-independent properties (properly speaking property-instances or tropes) are held to exist in association with each other but without a material substrate, bundle theory results. If bundle theory is shown to be illogical or inconceivable, the existence of a substrate is thereby demonstrated conceptually, despite the unpercievability of matter per se.

Idealism. An argument for idealism, such as those of Hegel and Berkeley is ipso facto an argument against materialism. Matter can be argued to be redundant, as in bundle theory, and mind-independent properties can in turn be reduced to subjective percepts.

Dualism. If matter is seen as necessary to explain the physical world, but incapable of explaining mind, dualism results.

Emergence, Holism and Process philosophy are some of the approaches that seek to ameliorate the perceived shortcomings of traditional (especially mechanistic) materialism without abandoning materialism entirely.

Materialism as methodology

Some critics object to materialism as part of an overly skeptical, narrow or reductivist approach to theorizing, rather than to the ontological claim that matter is the only substance. Particle physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne objects to what he calls promissory materialism — claims that materialistic science will eventually be able to explain phenomena it has not so far been able to explain. He prefers dual-aspect monism to materialism.

The psychologist Imants Barušs suggests that "materialists tend to indiscriminately apply a 'pebbles in a box' schema to explanations of reality even though such a schema is known to be incorrect in general for physical phenomena. Thus, materialism cannot explain matter, let alone anomalous phenomena or subjective experience , but remains entrenched in academia largely for political reasons. (Compare with Charles Fort)

The flow of time

Science has provided substantial evidence against the existence of a physical flow of time (see special relativity). However, humans possess a subjective sense of the flow of time. Critics of materialism could argue that it's impossible for a subjective sense of time to arise from something that doesn't flow in time, that is if they were to ignore the Second law of thermodynamics.

See also

Notes

http://www.stolaf.edu/events/sciencesymposium/speakers.html
1. Turner, M. S. (2007). Quarks and the cosmos. Science 315, 59–61.

References

  • Churchland, Paul (1981). Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. The Philosophy of Science. Boyd, Richard; P. Gasper; J. D. Trout. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.
  • Flanagan, Owen (1991). The Science of the Mind. 2nd edition Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT Press.
  • Fodor, J.A. (1974) Special Sciences, Synthese, Vol.28.
  • Gunasekara, Victor A. (2001) "Buddhism and the Modern World". ''Basic Buddhism: A Modern Introduction to the Buddha's Teaching". 18 January 2008 .
  • Kim, J. (1994) Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 52.
  • Lange, Friedrich A.,(1925) The History of Materialism. New York, Harcourt, Brace, & Co.
  • Moser, P. K.; J. D. Trout, Ed. (1995) Contemporary Materialism: A Reader. New York, Routledge.
  • Schopenhauer, Arthur, (1969) The World as Will and Representation. New York, Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Vitzthum, Richard C. (1995) Materialism: An Affirmative History and Definition. Amhert, New York, Prometheus Books.
  • Buchner, L. (1920). Force and Matter. New York, Peter Eckler Publishing CO.
  • La Mettrie, Man The machine.

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